And the streak continues. For the fourth year straight the Phantoms have kicked off the season against the NTDP's U18 squad and for the fourth time in as many seasons, we got beat. I won't sugar coat this one, for a good portion of this game it looked pretty ugly. The final score doesn't give the full story on the meltdown, 5-3 sounds respectable. However, 2 of those goals were scored very late when they really didn't mean anything and after a major loss of composure.

It started out well enough. The Phantoms looked to be on track in the first frame. Despite being outshot a little, we kept pace with the U18s. The NTDP got the first powerplay on a Nicholas Werbik penalty for hooking. Josh Norris took a long shot from the point and Phantoms netminder Darion Hanson was unable to corral the rebound and Brady Tkachuk managed to put the loose puck into the net to take a 1-0 lead 9:50 into the game. Just 0:25 late however, Griffin Loughran laid a nice drop pass into the slot for Coale Norris who ripped a shot to the fart post past NTDP goaltender Dylan St. Cyr. The 1-1 tie carried into the first intermission, shots 11-7 in favor of USA.

The second frame is where things began to break down. Despite Hanson making some really good save early in the period on a USA power play, a bad pass by Michael Karow just inside his own blueline lead to a Josh Norris unassisted snipe at 2:24. The NTDP added another one at 9:24 when Jacob Tortora chopped the puck which looked to still be behind the goalline after a bounce off the end boards. The puck somehow found a crack between Hanson and the post where no one else could see any daylight. Evan Barratt extended the lead to 4-1 at 13:03 with a deflection that bounced five hole on Hanson. The shots were almost even 12-11 USA but the score was looking a little lopsided after two.

USA would push the lead to 5-1 at 11:30, only moments after hitting the post deflecting the puck off a shot from the point, Graham Slaggart tipped another one from the point on net that found the twine. The Phantoms at that point were trying to salvage anything they could from the trip. With time running down things got a little ugly. With just under 5:00 left a little bit of a late hit by Josh Maniscalco on Griffin Loughran lead to some pushing and shoving, plus some unkind words from Alec Mahalak and Josh Norris put all parties into the penalty box for roughing and delay of game infractions. Not really a big deal. Then just 0:24 a heavy, clean hit by Dominic Dockery on Sean Dhooghe lead to a massive scrum that ended with Eric Esposito and Brady Tkachuk exchanging blows. To the younger Esposito's defense, he still had his gloves on and Tkachuk had his off and Esposito lost his helmet in the fracas while Tkachuk was still wearing his face cage. Eric Esposito was assessed a 4 minute double minor for roughing and a game ejection, Tkachuk a 5:00 major for fighting and a game ejection as well. Dockery and Maniscalco were also ticketed double monors for roughing and Alex Esposito was handed a 10 minute misconduct and all penalties were at the 15:37 mark. Scott Reedy would take a slashing call with only 0:42 left and Curtis Hall set up Chase Gresock at the bottom of the left faceoff circle to make it 5-2 with 0:32 left in the game. Austin Pooley would add an unassisted tally off a USA turnover in their own slot with about 4.5 seconds left. Shots were 11-7 USA in the frame and 35-26 overall.

Well, I can't say I'm surprised. It could have been worse I guess. I'm not so much worried about the loss or some of the little mistakes. However, I am worried about a couple key things. First is the powerplay. Despite scoring a PP goal late to put us at 1 for 4 on the man advantage, earlier attempts looked pretty bad. I think at least twice we did not register a shot on the advantage and generally looked to be lacking in direction or any sort of plan while up a man. The PK killed 2 of 3 and generally looked OK. Last year special teams were one of the biggest weakness of the Phantoms, we really need to get the PP going. The other was discipline. The late scrum was not a good sign at all. There is a time and place for the rough stuff, but with less than five to go, you're in dangerous territory. Even if you're sticking up for yourself or a teammate you need to be cognizant of the time and circumstances. Engaging against U18s with face cages with the score 5-1 is not a good idea. Earlier in the game with a closer score, maybe, but not down 4 that late. The refs were generous and did not call it a fight, Eric Esposito did not drop his mitts. Had this been a fight suspensions would be unavoidable. As it stands I still think both Esposito and Tkachuk could still be looking at a game or two suspension. I certainly think Tkachuk should get at least a game, more if Esposito gets any. The NTDP takes too much advantage of the face cages and there is no reason for a kid to take his gloves off and throw punches at a guy not wearing one. Hockey ops will have the final word.

That's it, another one in the books. We need to shrug it off and focus on next weeks pair of games. Yep, we're back in Plymouth for both but this time will be the U17s. That should be a lot easier, right? They won their first game 7-2, dismantling the Muskegon Lumberjacks, and people have told me it looked worse than the score indicates. I saw the 'Jacks play in preseason and they looked like one of the stronger teams in the East. Yeah, it could get interesting. Let's hope Coach Patterson can make the needed adjustments and get this team back on track. Oh, and I really don't have an highlights. Maybe next week. 

 Edit: Corrected information regarding the second goal and fixed some punctuation.